Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 05/25/2016
Format: 05/25/2016
Rafia Nafees Khan v. Regions Bank et al.
E2015-01891-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Clarence E. Pridemore, Jr.

The trial court granted the defendants' motion to dismiss on the basis of prior suit pending and dismissed the plaintiff's lawsuit. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Knox County Court of Appeals 05/25/16
Crescent Sock Company v. Robert H. Yoe, III et al.
E2015-00948-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Michael J. Sharp

Crescent Sock Company filed this action against its Chief Executive Officer, Robert H. Yoe, III, the day before Crescent terminated his employment. It sought a declaratory judgment that Yoe’s employment contract and an agreement between Crescent and Yoe Enterprises, Inc., a company wholly owned by Yoe, were invalid and unenforceable. After a seven-day bench trial, the court found the two agreements to be valid. It enforced them and found in favor of Yoe and Yoe Enterprises on some of the causes of action in their counterclaim. The trial court awarded Yoe and Yoe Enterprises attorney’s fees of $765,880.77. Yoe’s employment contract, however, does not include Yoe Enterprises among those entitled to seek "prevailing party" fees and expenses.

McMinn County Court of Appeals 05/25/16
Gretchen Michele Benedict v. Donald Lester Benedict, Jr.
E2015-01427-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Pamela A. Fleenor

This is the second time this matter has been before us on appeal. The issue is again the correct amount of Donald Lester Benedict, Jr.’s (Father) income upon which child support is to be based. Gretchen Michele Benedict (Mother) argues that the trial court erred when it set Father’s child support based upon an incorrect income figure. We have determined that the trial court misinterpreted our previous opinion in Benedict v. Benedict, No. E2013-00978-COA-R3-CV, 2014 WL 2187779 (Tenn. Ct. App., filed May 27, 2014) (Benedict I). The trial court incorrectly held that Father’s income was $75,000 per year for the purpose of setting child support for the period February 2007 to May 2014. The trial court used the $75,000 annual figure even though the evidence showed that Father’s actual income during the period of 2010-2014 ranged from a low of $60,444 to a high of $199,530. We vacate the trial court’s judgment and remand for a recalculation of the amount of child support.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 05/25/16
In re J.M.M.
E2015-01116-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Janice Hope Snider

This is a termination of parental rights case. The Department of Children’s Services filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of W.J.N. (Father) with respect to J.M.M. (the Child). The trial court found clear and convincing evidence of five grounds warranting termination. The court found the same quantum of evidence reflecting that termination is in the best interest of the Child. Father appeals. We affirm.

Hamblen County Court of Appeals 05/25/16
Judy Lance d/b/a J & B Discount v. Owner's Insurance Company
E2015-00274-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Michael Sharp

This is a breach of insurance contract action for failure to remit payment pursuant to a business-owners policy after the subject property was destroyed by fire. The case proceeded to jury trial. After denying the insurance company's motion for a directed verdict, the court submitted the case to the jury. The jury found that the plaintiff was entitled to recover under the policy and awarded compensatory and punitive damages and prejudgment interest. The jury also imposed a bad faith penalty and damages pursuant to the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act. The insurance company appeals. We affirm in part and reverse in part.

Polk County Court of Appeals 05/25/16
Ted Cope et al. v. Hawkins County, Tennessee
E2015-01615-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas J. Wright

Several property owners brought suit against the county for inverse condemnation when the county commission's road committee rescinded its recommendation to accept a road as a county road. The county sought dismissal for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The trial court dismissed the suit. The property owners appeal. We affirm.

Hawkins County Court of Appeals 05/25/16
Matthew Lee Wheeler v. Alethia Danielle Wheeler
M2015-00377-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Vanessa Jackson

This appeal involves a mother’s post-divorce petition to modify a parenting plan. The court below determined that while a material change of circumstances had occurred, modification of the plan was not in the child’s best interest. The mother appeals. Finding no error, we affirm the judgment of the Chancery Court.

Coffee County Court of Appeals 05/24/16
Raines Brothers, Inc. v. H. Michael Chitwood, et al.
E2015-01430-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge W. Jeffrey Hollingsworth

This is the second appeal in this contract action, which stems from the failure of the defendant, H. Michael Chitwood, to pay for construction work performed by the plaintiff, Raines Brothers, Inc. (“Raines”). The work was performed on a home occupied by Mr. Chitwood but owned by a trustee, James Dreaden, who was also named as a defendant in the original action. Following a bench trial, the trial court awarded Raines a judgment against Mr. Chitwood and Mr. Dreaden (collectively, “Defendants”) in the amount of $66,762.71. The trial court also awarded prejudgment interest at the rate of eighteen percent per annum, beginning August 14, 2007. The trial court denied Raines's claim for attorney's fees. Following a timely appeal by Defendants, this Court determined that Raines adequately proved its entitlement to the trial court's judgment of $66,762.71 against Mr. Chitwood but reversed the trial court's judgment against Mr. Dreaden. This Court modified the trial court's award of the rate of interest from eighteen percent per annum to ten percent in accordance with relevant statutory and case law.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 05/24/16
In re Malaya B. et al.
E2015-01880-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge W.Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Timothy E. Irwin

This appeal arises from the termination of Mother’s parental rights. Mother’s two children were removed from Mother on an emergency basis. A court later adjudicated the children dependent and neglected based on the stipulation of Mother. After the children had been in State custody for nearly eight months, the Department of Children’s Services petitioned to terminate Mother’s parental rights. Following a trial, the juvenile court found that two statutory grounds existed to terminate Mother’s rights—substantial noncompliance with the permanency plan and persistent conditions. The court also concluded that the termination of Mother’s parental rights was in the children’s best interest. Mother appeals, arguing that the evidence was not clear and convincing that there were statutory grounds for termination or that termination was in the children’s best interest. We affirm.

Knox County Court of Appeals 05/24/16
In Re Navada N., et al.
M2015-01400-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donna Scott Davenport

Both Mother and Father appeal the trial court’s decision to terminate their parental rights to two children. The trial court found clear and convincing evidence supporting several grounds against each parent and also found that termination was in the children’s best interest. With respect to the grounds for termination, we reverse in part, vacate in part, and affirm in part. Additionally, we affirm the trial court’s determination that termination is in the children’s best interest, and therefore, affirm the termination of both Mother’s and Father’s parental rights to the children at issue. 

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 05/23/16
In re Estate of Calvert Hugh Fletcher
M2015-01297-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Steven D. Qualls

This appeal stems from probate proceedings in the Putnam County Probate Court. During the course of the trial proceedings, an issue arose as to the ownership of a certificate of deposit titled in the decedent’s name. Following an evidentiary hearing, the trial court entered an order concluding that the certificate of deposit was, in fact, the property of the decedent’s estate. On appeal, the decedent’s surviving wife argues that because the funds within the certificate of deposit were derived from a joint marital account, they should have been impressed as entireties property. We agree and conclude that the funds in the certificate of deposit passed to the surviving wife upon the decedent’s death. The judgment of the trial court is accordingly reversed.  

Putnam County Court of Appeals 05/23/16
In re Sophia P.
M2015-01978-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge John H. Gasaway, III

This is an appeal from the trial court’s denial of a petition for adoption and termination of parental rights filed by the minor child’s maternal grandmother and step-grandfather. During the trial court proceedings, the minor child’s natural father sought to have his paternity and parenting rights established. When the trial court denied the termination petition, it ordered the natural parents to attempt to agree upon a parenting plan. The trial court noted that it would enter a permanent parenting plan on its own if the parents could not reach an agreement. Because the record transmitted to us does not indicate that the trial court ever entered a permanent parenting plan, there is an absence of a final judgment in this case. We therefore dismiss this appeal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
 

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 05/23/16
Jeffery Walton v. Tennessee Department of Correction, et al.
W2015-01336-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Martha Brasfield

Appellant, an inmate at a state prison operated by a private contractor, filed the underlying pro se petition for a writ of certiorari to challenge the result of a disciplinary proceeding against him. The trial court dismissed the petition against the private contractor's employees on the ground that these employees could not impose punishment on the inmate under Tennessee Code Annotated Section 41-24-110(5) and were, thus, not proper parties to the petition. As to the Appellee Tennessee Department of Correction, the trial court dismissed the petition, finding that the board had not acted illegally, arbitrarily, or fraudulently and that the inmate had not stated a claim for violation of due process. We affirm and remand.

Hardeman County Court of Appeals 05/23/16
In re Addison P.
E2015-02102-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jerri S. Bryant

Mother appeals the termination of her parental rights on grounds of abandonment by willful failure to visit and wanton disregard. Because the trial court entered an order during the proceedings that excluded wanton disregard as a ground and this ground was not tried by implied consent, we reverse the trial court's finding of wanton disregard. In addition, the trial court failed to make any finding that Mother's failure to visit the child was willful. Accordingly, we vacate this ground and remand to the trial court for further proceedings.

McMinn County Court of Appeals 05/20/16
Jon R. Ross v. Anna L. Rosswoods
M2015-01475-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge William R. Goodman, III

This appeal involves a post-divorce parental relocation. The mother notified the father that she intended to relocate outside of Tennessee with the parties’ minor son. The father filed a petition opposing the relocation on the grounds that it would not be in the child’s best interest; the petition was filed outside the 30-day filing period set forth in Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-6-108. The trial court excused the untimely filing of the father’s petition, reasoning that the mother waived the defense by failing to plead it as an affirmative defense. After a hearing, the court found that the mother’s proposed move would not be in the child’s best interest. The mother now appeals. We conclude that the mother was not required to raise the untimely filing as an affirmative defense. Because the father failed to file a written petition opposing the mother’s relocation within 30 days of receiving notice of her proposed relocation, the trial court erred in conducting any further analysis under Section 36-6-108. We therefore reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand this case for such further proceedings as may be necessary and consistent with this Opinion.
 

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 05/19/16
Lawrence Joseph Wilkerson, III v. Charlene Monique Wilkerson
M2014-02412-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Laurence M. McMillan, Jr.

This appeal arises from post-divorce efforts to modify a permanent parenting plan. Mother filed a petition in which she requested a modification to the permanent parenting plan. Father filed a counter-petition in which he requested to be named the primary residential parent of their children. The trial court found that Father failed to prove a material change in circumstance as necessary to change the primary residential parent designation and that Mother failed to prove a material change in circumstance as necessary to modify the permanent parenting plan. After reviewing the record, we find the evidence preponderates against the trial court’s finding that there was no material change in circumstance sufficient to modify the residential parenting schedule. Accordingly, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand to the trial court for further proceedings.
 

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 05/19/16
In re Charles K. Jr., et al.
M2015-00714-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Sheila Calloway

This appeal involves the termination of a mother and father’s parental rights to their children. Following a bench trial, the trial court found that clear and convincing evidence existed to support the termination of each parent’s rights on the statutory grounds of abandonment for failure to visit, abandonment based upon each parent’s conduct prior to incarceration that exhibited a wanton disregard for the children’s welfare, substantial noncompliance with the permanency plans, and the persistence of conditions which led to removal. The court further found that termination was in the best interest of the children. The parents appeal. We affirm the judgment of the trial court as modified in this opinion.
 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 05/19/16
Donna Faye Shipley Ex Rel. Frank Shipley v. Robin Williams
M2014-02279-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph P. Binkley, Jr.

Health care liability action filed in November 2002 in which patient alleges that physician was negligent in failing to assess her condition, failing to provide proper medical care, failing to admit her to the hospital or refer her to another doctor, and failing to properly follow-up with her. The trial court granted summary judgment on all claims and, following an appeal to this court in which we reversed the grant of summary judgment on all claims, the Supreme Court reinstated summary judgment on the failure to admit claim and remanded the case for trial on the remaining claims. On remand, on the patient’s motion, the trial court set aside the summary judgment on the failure to admit claim, applying the “substantially different evidence” exception to the law of the case doctrine; following further discovery, the court reinstated summary judgment on that claim. After a trial, the jury found that the physician did not breach the standard of care and judgment was entered in her favor. Patient appeals, contending that the court erred in granting partial summary judgment on the failure to admit claim in 2006 and in reinstating the claim on remand; in restricting and excluding certain evidence at trial; in allowing evidence designed to shift blame from the physician to the patient and others; and in awarding sanctions against counsel for the patient. Finding no error or abuse of discretion, we affirm the judgment in all respects.
     

Davidson County Court of Appeals 05/19/16
Clean Harbors Environmental Services, Inc. v. State of Tennessee
M2014-01136-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Robert N. Hibbett, Commissioner, TN Claims Commission

This appeal arises from a contract dispute. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (“TDEC”) contracted with a third party for the collection and disposal of certain types of waste. The contract required the waste to be disposed of within the United States. TDEC claimed the contractor allowed waste to move outside the United States and, as a result of the alleged contract violation, recouped a portion of the contract payments by “short-paying.” The contractor filed a complaint with the Tennessee Claims Commission to recover the recouped payments. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the Claims Commission granted summary judgment in favor of the contractor but denied its request for pre-judgment interest. Although for purposes of summary judgment it assumed that some waste collected by the contractor left the country, the Claims Commission found such a breach by the contractor to be immaterial. TDEC and the contractor both appeal. We affirm the grant of summary judgment to the contractor, although on different grounds; we reverse the denial of pre-judgment interest. 

Court of Appeals 05/18/16
Credential Leasing Corporation of Tennessee, Inc. v Patrick L. White
E2015-01129-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jerri S. Bryant

The defendant, a practicing attorney, prepared a deed of trust for the benefit of the plaintiff lender concerning a loan made by the lender to the defendant‘s brother. The subject property was subsequently foreclosed upon by the first mortgage holder without notice to the lender. The lender later discovered that its deed of trust contained certain defects. The lender filed the instant action against the defendant, claiming that the defendant was liable for professional negligence, breach of contract, fraudulent misrepresentation, and a violation of the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the lender on the professional negligence claim while granting summary judgment in favor of the defendant on the breach of contract claim.

Monroe County Court of Appeals 05/17/16
Jill St. John-Parker v. Virgil Duane Parker
E2014-01338-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Lawrence H. Puckett

In this divorce, the trial court's main challenge was to classify and divide corporate debentures worth over two million dollars. After considering the evidence, the trial court classified all of the debentures as marital property and awarded Wife a share equal to $450,000. After this Court granted Husband's motion to stay execution on distribution of the assets, the trial court awarded Wife temporary alimony. We have concluded that the trial court erred in its division of the debentures and in awarding attorney fees to Wife for her attorney's work regarding Husband's motion to stay execution. In all other respects, we affirm the trial court's decision.

Bradley County Court of Appeals 05/17/16
Sandra Gibson v. Young Men's Christian Association Of Middle Tennessee
M2015-01465-COA-R9-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Mark Rogers

This is an appeal from an order denying summary judgment. The appellee signed a YMCA membership application and release agreement prior to tripping and falling on a sidewalk in front of the YMCA. The appellee filed suit, alleging negligence. The YMCA then filed a motion for summary judgment, claiming that the appellee expressly assumed the risk of her injuries. The trial court denied the YMCA’s motion for summary judgment but granted a motion for interlocutory appeal. We reverse the trial court’s order denying summary judgment and remand with instructions to enter summary judgment.      

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 05/16/16
Margaret McClain Sneed Wills v. David Kyle Wills
M2015-01639-COA-r3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joe Thompson

This is an appeal of the trial court’s award of alimony. Husband appeals the trial court’s decision to award alimony in futuro as well as the amount of alimony awarded. We vacate both the trial court’s award of alimony in futuro and the amount awarded.

Sumner County Court of Appeals 05/16/16
In re Mason E., et al.
E2015-01256-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor E.G. Moody

The trial court found by clear and convincing evidence that Father had committed severe child abuse by knowingly exposing his three minor children to methamphetamine. Father appealed the trial court's decision to admit positive drug tests for the children into evidence and the trial court's finding of severe child abuse. We affirm.

Sullivan County Court of Appeals 05/16/16
In re Kaitlin W. et al.
E2015-01553-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Timothy E. Irwin

This appeal arises from a termination of parental rights. The Tennessee Department of Children‘s Services ("DCS") filed a petition in the Juvenile Court for Knox County ("the Juvenile Court") seeking to terminate the parental rights of Remus W. ("Father") to his five children ("the Children"). After a trial, the Juvenile Court found that the grounds of wanton disregard, persistent conditions, and severe child abuse had been proven against Father by clear and convincing evidence, and that termination of Father‘s parental rights was in the Children‘s best interest. Father appeals. We reverse the judgment of the Juvenile Court as to the grounds of wanton disregard and persistent conditions. We affirm the Juvenile Court as to the ground of severe child abuse and as to its best interest determination. Having reversed the Juvenile Court as to only two of the three grounds found for termination, we, therefore, affirm the judgment of the Juvenile Court terminating Father‘s parental rights.

Knox County Court of Appeals 05/16/16